‘Legend of Korra’ Book 4 Premiere Review: “After All These Years”
Man, time really flies when you're recovering from emotional and physical paralysis caused by battling anarchists! Three years fly by, to be exact.
As 'Legend of Korra' unexpectedly returns just a month after the Book 3: Change finale, the show joins the ranks of 'Battlestar Galactica,' 'Alias,' and 'One Tree Hill' in taking a giant leap forward in time, with Korra's showdown against Zaheer a distant memory for Team Avatar. At first, everything looks peachy: Republic City thrives with new tourist attractions — anyone immediately book their next vacation to the Spirit Wilds? — the Earth Kingdom is on the brink of resurgence, and everyone has new jobs, new threads, and a little more age on their faces (the growth spurt on Mako and Asami was even a bit shocking, as if they were my children growing up before my eyes...). Life is grand. Everything's going smoothly. For about two seconds.
Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are the masters of the finale. The end of Change felt elegantly resolved while leaving plenty of unanswered questions: How do you fix a Ba Sing Se ruptured by government oppression, assassination, and mass hysteria? Su spoke for many when she insisted another queen wouldn't be the answer. The Airbenders spread out across the land as roaming protectors. Korra had her own baggage to unpack. But like real life nations struggling to replace heads of state, it appears three-years-later Ba Sing Se is only now finding a replacement: Prince Wu, a young lad with panache, an easily spooked Leprechaun Pharrell. With Mako as his bodyguard, Wu will take over the sovereign kingdom and restore balance to the world. Theoretically. Konietzko and DiMartino raised serious questions about heads of state in Book 3 and are diligent to keep them in play, picking up the threads with the introduction of their new villainess: Kuvira.
I was so blindsided by the Kuvira namedrop in last season's finale that I wrote the appearance off as a friendly cameo by Zelda Williams (daughter of the late Robin). Wrong. Last seen tending to Tonraq's wounds, the random Metal Clan member now barrels across the land, absorbing Earth Kingdom nations under her new ominous moniker, “Great Uniter.” Someone spent the last three years eating Wheaties – this girl got game. When we first meet Kuvira, she's barking orders at her main counsel, including Bolin, Varrick, and Su's son Baatar, her fiancé.
In the years since Korra went dark, Kuvira rose to Catherine the Great-like power, striving for a united Earth Kingdom that can live under her thumb. (Or is she more Alexander the Great? Napoleon? Claudius? History scholars, sound off in the comments.) Her intentions seem positive... but so did Amon's, Unalaq's, and Zaheer's. What we do know is Kuvira is powerful, taking down an entire fleet of bandits with a few well slung metal restraints in a rootin', tootin', drum beatin' canyon action sequence that would make John Ford smile. This is what thieves get for messing with a professional dancer. Nimble fury!
Kuvira's position in this Avatar-less world has citizens choosing sides. There are proponents of the Great Uniter; In Republic City, we see a number of shady Earthbenders chuck pies at Wu during a brief appearance. They're not fans. If this scene wasn't supposed to recall the 2011 pieing of Rupert Murdoch during his Parliamentary hearing, writers officially need to retire pieing as a form of protest, because it's owned.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear from the premiere (he's a nice guy pushover?), Bolin goes along with Kuvira's manipulative offensive, the world leader going all Tony Soprano, forcing villages to sign over their towns in return for protection. When the Kuvirapiercer choo-choos its way into a town assisted by Opal and Kai, mild friction suddenly burns red hot. Not only does the governor (voiced by 'Mad Men''s Robert Morse) refuse to sign Kuvira's contract, Opal and Kai butt heads with the political conquistador, leaving them to fend for themselves. It doesn't work.
As two lone airbenders — with some ridiculous cool wingsuits — the duo is no match for bandits with biplanes and grappling hooks. Tech trumps superpowers. When Kuvira returns to see if the governor might reconsider, even Opal and Kai agree it's the only option. Kuvira has an army, vehicles, and new-and-improved mechsuits. Better tech can trump tech.
Maybe Konietzko and DiMartino were planting more seeds in Book 3 than imagined. “Magnets,” Varrick kept babbling about last season. Now, the funny gag is pivotal Kuvira's campaign. Literally — magnetized handcuffs keeps the bandits stuck to the train tracks — and figuratively, a stand in for her technologically-enabled pursuits. This is a Second Industrial Revolution for the Avatarverse. If we can turn to history for answers, that could be sign for world war. For now Kuvira aims to command and conquer, until Wu and his Republic City support system attempts its own power play.
Much like Book 3's premiere, “After All These Years” eases us back to life with old friends. Knowing that the core characters' emotional lives continued forward is the real joy. Asami, a beacon of technological hope, revamped the Republic City terminal to allow quick travel to Ba Sing Se. And she misses her friends! That's the clincher. When word of Korra's arrival reaches Mako and Asami, both are gushing with excitement to get the gang back together. We feel it, with sincere smiles and spot on voice acting.
Any grievances against Kai disappeared when he started talking about his long-distance relationship with Jinora. Though Opal and Bolin are on rough terrain (c'mon, you two, smooth that out with some Romancebending!), the scamp and his bald gal pal are doing great. I'm going to trust that little guy, because if he's fibbing and the adorable couple isn't actually the adorable couple, love will be dead.
Oh yeah, Korra. How's that wheelchair treatin... WHAT, SHE'S NOT IN THE BOAT?!
Forget rehab. Korra is back, duking it out like Mary Kom in an Earthbending cage fighting league. She's not that good... but maybe that's the point. Whether Korra throws matches or puts herself through MMA hell to regain strength, losing ensures that she isn't found. In the long-standing tradition of superheroes going off the grid ('World Without Superman,' 'The Dark Knight Rises,' a number of other classics you can list in the comments), Korra is living a conflict-free life getting beaten to a pulp.
That can't last long. The world is in need of balance. And no matter what the anarchists say, the Avatar is a keystone to harmony. Somewhere between an absence of leadership and Kuvira's techno-fascism is a society living by the Avatar's philosophy. Step one: Come out of her self-imposed iceberg and size up the world. Thankfully it only took three years, not 100.